Fall is upon us and the leaves are changing, which means organizations are putting out their annual impact and sustainability reports. There’s an oft-used saying that sustainability is a journey, not a destination (search “sustainability is a journey” to see how popular it is). For years, this phrase has played out in reports and CEO letters around the world, lately, it’s accompanied by “we’ve made progress but there is more work to do.” These reports are supposed to be a celebration of accomplishments and hard work. Instead, we keep hearing, “we did something pretty good, but we’re trying to be humble, so don’t ridicule us about the stuff we struggle with.” It’s passive language that diminishes efforts and minimizes the impact of your organization. Here are a few tips to consider.
Don’t be driven by fear of being criticized. In today’s transparent world, organizations who stand up for something risk criticism — but standing up is the only way to reap the rewards.
Don’t compete for the sake of competing. This noncommittal language allows you to tout goals that don’t matter, or overstate small wins just so you can have a seat at the table. People see right through this.
Celebrate. Every little bit counts and significant positive impact matters, you’ve earned it. And while you’re finding ways to do good, it’s ok that you could do more. We can all do more.
So what’s the right way to celebrate positive impact? For SMBs with limited resources and budgets, it’s smart to consider how you’re going to compete with larger scale organizations. Generally, it’s been about telling authentic stories around how you are limiting your impact. But increasingly, it’s about evolving the structure of your organization and its purpose to directly have a positive impact on the world. Here, SMBs actually have an advantage over large orgs.
Most successful SMBs were founded on a set of values and have already begun rallying their customers and employees around a core purpose. And when that purpose drives the organization’s business growth and positive impact, it’s far easier to quantify and celebrate it all.
Here are a few examples of successful organizations who minimized their need for complicated reporting by clearly tying their business to a positive impact and living that out through their day-to-day operations, eliminating the need for a report altogether:
Dr. Bronner’s embraces a global society through its “All-One” vision. The company is growing more than ever, but its CEO pay is capped at 5x the lowest-paid worker. Dr. Bronner’s donates profits to social and environmental justice efforts.
Beneficial State Bank in Oakland, CA directs 75% of their loan dollars to mission-aligned initiatives.
Looking to share progress on your sustainability journey, but don’t know how to define or articulate your purpose? Well, at least you know what you should spend valuable time figuring out.